Zach blinks awake with the memory of the sound of waves crashing in his ears. The briny smell of salt water in his nose is visceral, the fog obscuring everything beyond the sand, wet under his feet. He reaches out and the other side of the bed is cold. The house is pre-dawn quiet. The foggy beach was a dreamscape and Zach's not going to be able to get back to sleep tonight.
He gets up and pads silently to the balcony. It's early yet and too dark to see any of the view that Zach knows well enough to fill in with his mind. He needs to get out of here.
It's early enough that traffic shouldn't be too bad, and late enough it's shouldn't be carrying over from yesterday either. The reality of distance is a skewed experience when you compare miles to Google's estimates to the reality of bumper to bumper. Then you have to factor in kid-time. Going to the beach requires preparation. They need towels and beach chairs, a big umbrella, shovels and pails, boogie boards, sunscreen and sandwiches.
Shaun packed his suitcase and flew to NY in less time than it takes for a day trip to the beach.
Zach moves quickly, throwing on clothes, grabbing his wet suit and towel in no time at all. He pauses walking through the kitchen to leave a note.
Went surfing. Be back by lunch. Wake Gabe if you need anything.
No need to leave a note for Gabe, he won't be up first. Gabe sleeps like the dead, even on the shitty futon in the office he's been sleeping on while between apartments and girlfriends.
Zach picks up his surf board where it's stored in the mudroom on the way out. It's been so long since it's been used he has to dig it out from behind a veritable mountain of abandoned sneakers and bike helmets, Cody's roller blades, and some grody hoodies that have escaped from the hooks they should be hanging on (or more likely, abandoned on the floor as Cody ran off to do something more fun than keeping the mudroom clean).
Zach doesn't reach for the radio as he drives. The quiet is loud enough for this type of morning, resounding in the car and in his head. It's still dark out, but perhaps the black of night has progressed to a slightly less dark shade of itself, signaling the morning to come. The air is cold and wet, the way it is before the sun has a chance to burn away those adjectives.
The sun is finally breaching the sky as Zach pulls into the parking lot of the empty beach. It's painting the sky pink and orange and red above the road, the buildings, and the whole damn city in the type of sunrise so beautiful that it demands to be looked at. But Zach is feeling rebellious.
He ignores the sun, pulling on his wetsuit and heading out to the ocean. The sand is cold, but nothing compared to the first shocking rush of water foaming over his feet as the waves crash into the beach. That doesn't stop him, it's exactly what he came for.
There's no extra time to think as he paddles his board out to sea. The mind needs to be focused on the body, feeling the buoyant up and down as the water lifts him out of it's way. Zach watches the waves intently. The only judging is to decide if this is the wave to go for. He paddles hard and feels it everywhere. His arms are unused to the motion, and the salt water splashes and sprays into his face, salty in his mouth, stinging in his eyes, until--
Until, in one smooth motion Zach stands up.
Standing is taken for granted on land. It takes work on a surfboard, leg muscles engaged, the sea a wild stallion spooked by something metaphysical. It's exhilarating. The wind is cold in Zach's face, a rush, exactly what he's been missing. Here, his body is balanced and in balance in the way his life isn't.
Zach rides the wave in, then drops back into the water to do it again.
The sun is done rising by the time Zach drags himself out of the water, to flop down on the beach. It's warmed up, and Zach knows it will go on to be hot later. His arms, shoulders, thighs are sore from pushing himself, from being out of practice, from that one wipe-out. It's the good kind of ache, satisfying and accomplished. He lets himself lay there and dry out in the sun.
He uses his towel to brush away the sand before sitting down in his car. Zach closes the door and picks up his abandoned cell phone. He dials.
"What's wrong?" Shaun says, picking up the phone.
"What?" Zach asks. "Nothing." He's already wrong-footed and the conversation hasn't even started.
"It's early there."
"But not there," Zach says.
"No, not here," Shaun agrees, not actually saying anything. Zach doesn't know when it became this hard to talk to Shaun.
"Sorry, I went surfing," Zach tries again.
"With Cody?" Shaun asks, concern in his voice.
"No, he was asleep when I left. Gabe's sleeping on the futon. I left a note for Cody to wake him if he needs anything."
"So Gabe and Carrie broke up."
It's not really a question, but Zach answers anyway. "Yeah." Silence. "So how were the meetings with your publisher?" That was ostentatiously the reason for Shaun's trip. At this point, Zach doesn't even remember if it was an excuse turned truth or a truth turned excuse.
"They were okay," Shaun says. And when Zach doesn't say anything else it falls quiet, stilted and awkward, between them. Zach closes his eyes and rests his forehead on the steering wheel. It shouldn't be sunny for this type of silence. "You know, I'm staying at this hotel all the way on the west side," Shaun says eventually.
"Uh-huh," Zach says, even though he doesn't know. He's still never been to New York.
"You can see the water from my room," Shaun says, "and New Jersey," added as an afterthought. "But you can't swim in it."
"Isn't it too cold there at this time of year?" Zach thinks of Christmas specials on TV, the way New York looks like a snow globe, a flurry of white above the lights. It's not quite there yet, but the calendar has been creeping quietly through November while Zach was distracted.
"Even in the summer," Shaun says. "The water's so polluted it's toxic."
"That sucks." Zach didn't know that, a fact left out of all the happily ever afters.
Zach isn't sure what to say. He opens his mouth and what comes out is not intentional. "Gabe asked when you'd be back."
"Zach." Shaun's voice breaks in the middle and something in Zach breaks with it. It's a shock after so long walking around numb. It hurts when he takes his next shuddering inhale he hopes doesn't carry through the phone line. And then he raises his head, sits up, and lets it out. He opens his eyes, blinking, and pretends it's the sharp glare of the sun reflecting off the water that makes his eyes prickle, that cause the tears he's blinking back.
Zach thinks about Shaun, looking out his own window, watching waves of unfathomably toxic water. He's grateful that Shaun doesn't try to fill this silence, that Shaun knows him well enough to let him get his words in order. Words are typically Shaun's specialty. Zach watches the ocean through the front windshield, and he can only imagine it as a canvas of blues and greens and golds. The water swells and shimmers until it can't hold any more, and the wave breaks. The white foam water rushes over the sand, before retreating back to do it all over again. The waves break again and again. Zach thinks maybe it doesn't hurt as much as he first thought. He thinks maybe this is not the end.
And Zach knows what he wants to say. "You should come home." A pause. "I want you to come home."
"I-" and it's Shaun's turn to be choked up on the other side of the phone, on the other side of the country, "I want to come home."
Sometimes I get up early and even my soul is wet.
Far away the sea sounds and resounds.
This is a port.
Here I love you.
Here I love you and the horizon hides you in vain.
- Pablo Neruda, from “Here I Love You”